Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Merry Christmas from eh10

That's Jeremy, Andrew and me on a post-turkey, pre-trifle stroll. Jeremy's wearing flashing santas, Andrew's got a sparkly santa hat, and I think he might be trying to be a turkey.

Olly was the photographer, Netty was keeping warm inside (cruel Christmas flu).

We had a super Christmas, just like a childhood one (lots of toys and chocolate, endless dishes), only more champagne. Toy of the day was probably the i-Top, although the Powerball was also popular (Jeremy the reigning champ, much to the other boys' chagrin), and my favourite was my new pink iPod mini. So cute. Lots of lovely NZ goodies too, including a paua Christmas tree for our Christmas tree.

Speaking of Christmas trees, they are better here than in NZ. You get to choose from lots of different varieties - branchy ones or bushy ones, short or long needles, silver or green, 3 feet or 13 feet (metric still hasn't really caught on). Ours is branchy, and its piece de resistance is an African mama painted steel angel from South Africa.

There are a few more Christmas pics on atkd.


It's great to see Timothy "electoral fraud" Selwyn up to old tricks again - and still wearing the same suit. Earlier this month, he was accused of an axe attack on NZ PM Helen Clark's electoral office, and has been charged with charged with "conspiracy to commit criminal damage and seditious conspiracy." Serious stuff.

Back in my student days, when I lived above the undertakers with a collection of weirdos and Tom, I got to know Mr Selwyn quite well. Not voluntarily, I hasten to add - he dated one of the weirdos, and spent a lot of time sitting in our kitchen dressed in only a towel. Enough to put a girl off her breakfast. He was also quite fond of expounding his particular view of the world (whether or not you wanted to hear it). It seems that he has developed even more forceful methods of putting across his "alternative viewpoint".

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

In need of a holiday

How can I tell?

  • I just spent half an hour looking for a book of stamps that I had put in a safe place only half an hour before.
  • I almost sent my computer to an early grave by dousing it in tea.
  • The contents of our study and bathroom and some of our living room too are arranged around the walls of our bedroom, and everywhere else in the house is covered in dust or wet paint. There are works in progress - a good time to get out.
It's 23 deg in Fuerteventura! Christmas with a'll be just like being at home. Who am I kidding? I don't really tan. But maybe I'll be less translucent :-)

Monday, November 29, 2004

Life on site

Construction site, that is. I'm perched on a chair next to a freshly painted wall, atop some bright orange bubble wrap that makes a good, if noisy and at times fright-inducing, dust sheet. Pop. One sofa's obscuring the telly, another blocking access to the dining table. We've been painting.

Now A's busy (pop) exploring the fireplace we've just discovered. Pop. Well, we knew it was there, but didn't realise that it was so easily accessible behind a hinged door. No skeletons hiding in it. A's dreaming of installing an entertainment system, or shelving, or one of those flash modern fireplaces we can't afford (and I'm not mad keen on them anyway - too modern). I think we should just seal up the door and wallpaper on over it. Especially since we've bought such fab wallpaper.

The bathroom has a big hole in it too. One day the ceiling will be raised, but we're not quite sure how. So for now, a big hole where the water tank used to be.

Domestic bliss aside, I discovered today that the end of the year will signal the end of my employment funding = no job for me. I had been thinking about not renewing my contract anyway, but it's still a shock. It's somehow much better when you are free to make the decision yourself, rather than have it made for you. The positive spin, though, is that my boss feels bad and is being nice, rather than being annoyed that I'm leaving and being difficult. I'll get a good reference and maybe some intros for freelance work and, as I still have some holidays left this year, my last day will be this Friday! Four more days! I can't quite believe it.

To escape from the orange bubblewrap (pop) we took in a couple of movies this weekend. First up was Enduring Love, based on Ian McEwen's novel of the same name. I've read a few of his books, and now I'll definitely have to read this one. The detail in the film was so finely tuned that I was left wondering whether to admire the craft of the writer or the director (probably both...and the actors too). Small moments in the lives of real people. Blowing the dust out of plastic picnic cups before pouring the bubbly. Mundane detail, but utterly convincing. Great story, too, and the cinematography and art direction were gorgeous.

Quite different, but just as enjoyable (maybe more so), was The Incredibles. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments (like when Dash's flying feet propelled the Elastogirl rubber dinghy to shore), great characters (personal fave: Edna), super suits. Cool fun all round.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

looking back on London

That's right, I was going to say some more about London-town.

It wasn't all art and views...we managed to fit in a bit of shopping (I always manage to). Top spot - Marylebone High Street, home of the Conran Shop, Cath Kidston, Skandium and other treasures. Coffee comes kiwi-style at the Tapa Room (flat whites even, and NZ mags), but even then it was beaten to the title of top London coffee by Fern's find Ottolenghi (staffed by Australians). Yum!

We also fitted in a grand tour of the beeb (Fern again, what a star) - even on a quiet day we saw Ruby Wax in reception and Kirsty Wark filming Newsnight. And the Blue Peter Garden. Cool.

It was nice to catch up with old pals, and to come back with two loaves of Vogel's (thanks Tanya!) ... we might even visit again. Urban Path looks like a good guide to the better things in the vast metropolis.

Closer to home, I'm jobhunting (again/still), developing a few projects, anything as an escape route from my current employment. A's making holes in the bathroom, training for a half marathon and helping with my projects. Busy times.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Keeping an eye on London

London Eyes (x8)

Twice the Taylors, last seen high in the sky on the London Eye, sporting sunset glows and family resemblances aplenty.

London was a fun town this time around (last time we had been travelling for 4 months and suffering from associated poverty/"will we find a job?" anxiety/general travel fatigue). It feels so much more the big city than dinky wee Edinburgh...more and better shops, busier streets, blacker snot, bigger distances.

We marvelled at fantastic art. The Saatchi Gallery was a definite highlight, with Tracey Emin's Bed, Damian Hirst's formaldehyde, Ron Mueck's Angel and other definitive moments in contemporary art. My favourite, though, was the oil room, a wood-panelled room filled torso-high with black oil, providing a perfect mirror image of itself when viewed from the inserted!

The ooh-ing and aah-ing didn't stop there. The London Eye, perfectly timed to catch the sun disappear behind Big Ben, afforded fantastic views of a flat and sprawling city, and the pink sunset further along the Thames made jewels of the riverside buildings. Cold, though. And can you find a pub when you want one? At about half past ten at night they start turfing you out, and are few and far between on the South Bank.

It's way past my bedtime (London pubs are long since shut), so you'll have to hold that thought till next post (soon, I promise!).

Saturday, November 06, 2004

deepest, darkest...

Not secrets, but's descending, and fast. The clocks changed last weekend, and with the extra hour in bed on a cold morning came dark afternoons (4 or earlier)...and still almost two months of diminishing daylight before the shortest day. No snow yet, though.

It's been a while. Since last post, I've been:
  • Shopping for some winter sun. After much deliberation, we opted for a cheap and cheerful (hopefully) week in Fuerteventura.
  • Learning how to draw - at the Edinburgh College of Art. I'm taking a beginners drawing/painting class, which started with a whole lot of right-brain drawing . The theories behind this are quite interesting (basically, that to be able to draw well requires a switch from left to right-brain modes, and that this can be practiced and learned).
  • To see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Carling Academy in Glasgow (last night). It was a stonkingly good gig of two sets - the first half from his latest album, the second a host of old faves, including the exquisitely delivered God is in the House, a blistering Red Right Hand, and Henry Lee (sadly sans-PJ). The stage was crammed full, not just with tall men in dark suits, but with a lot of kit (2 drumkits, a piano & two keyboards, guitars, flute, violin...), a lot of amplification (it was LOUD) and some gospel singers too.
  • Teaching my new line manager how to open Microsoft Word (it gets more Office-like by the day in that place).
  • To Lewis & Harris - with work this time. Stocked up on Stornoway Black Pudding while I was there.
  • To see the Finns at the Usher Hall.
We're looking forward to a trip to London next weekend...

Monday, October 11, 2004

Things to do (3) - further afield

I already mentioned (in passing) the Botanic Gardens...a really nice place to visit, especially in summer. Although the hothouses are good all year round. From there you can walk all the way along the Water of Leith to the Dean Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art - worth a visit just to see Charles Jencks' Landform and sit in the cafe.

The Traverse is good for theatre, a beer or fine dining. A bit further up Lothian Road (en route to EH10), the Filmhouse cafe has a good vibe, the Cameo's got a nice new bar too, and Bennet's is worth a visit. The Apartment is The Outsider's suburban sister, up the hill to Bruntsfield, Peckhams, a cool stationery shop, my yoga school (straying outside tourist territory here!) , Luca's at Church Hill and you're on the home stretch. The Canny Man's is a very posh pub indeed (our local, I suppose).

Things to do part two - the New Town

This is refined Edinburgh at its best - Georgian townhouses, sweeping crescents, urban planning. And Princes Street - high street stores, architectural disasters (Princes Street Mall, anyone?), gorgeous gardens. Where to start?

Art-wise, galleries abound. For blockbuster exhibitions like the Age of Titian, The RSA and National Gallery, recently joined underground, are your best bet. The Portrait Gallery is tucked away on Queen Street, in a fabulous building, and has a proper old-style caff with famous, fabulous scones.

Just around the corner you'll find a shrine to all that is chic - Harvey Nic's. The cafe upstairs has a great view if you can score a window table, the merchandise is luxurious and nice to look at. They have the best window displays in town, too. Jenners is old Edinburgh's department store (third century of trading!), and is easy to get lost in. It also sports a 40ft Christmas tree at the appropriate time of year (how do they get it into the building?). Otherwise, for shopping, you're better off in Glasgow.

Views can be had all over's that kind of city. Top spots include the Scott Monument (not for claustrophobics), the terrace of Oloroso, North Bridge in either direction, Calton Hill, the Botanics looking back to the city and (insider secret) the ladies' loo in House of Fraser.

The Cafe Royal Circle Bar has amazing mirrors and tiling, The Dome has a nice...dome, the Opal Lounge is full of beautiful people, Centotre plays Italian lessons in the toilets.

Things to do in Edinburgh - the old town

We were chatting at work today about nice things to do in Edinburgh - visitors imminent and all that. Collectively, we came up with so many ideas that I thought it might be useful to note some down for future reference & referral. Pen and paper just won't do these days, so here they are, in my blog...

In the Old Town
Take a tour - above or below ground, by day or by night - not for the faint of heart, I hear.

Visit the new Scottish Parliament. You can take a guided tour at £3.50, or just wander, I think. Down that end of the mile, you can also visit Cadenhead's if you're a whisky geek, the map shop opposite if you're a map/print geek (or just for some good craic with the shop owner, quite mad but all the better for it), visit the Queen at the Palace of Holyroodhouse (across the road from the Parliament) - very nice door-hinges and, until 7 November, Dutch Paintings of the Golden Age. And you're not too far from Holyrood Park/Arthur's Seat/Salisbury Crags - perfect to burn off some energy, blow away the cobwebs and for a knockout view.

Moving on up the mile... Always Sunday's always ok for coffee (and, if you score a window seat, people watching). Sir Sean was seen last weekend at Cafe Florentin (although I have had bad coffee there). Explore some closes en route, or if you're heading for Waverley Station, Cockburn St is interesting (in a kids with piercings kind of way).

Spit on the Heart of Midlothian, be impressed by St Giles', avoid the tacky tourist shops and nasty £20 kilts.

The Mile ends (or more properly, begins), at the Castle, of course. Pricey (£9.50), but you have to do it at least once. I might be able to wangle a freebie for this weekend's visitors, in exchange for participation in the Big Draw!

Moving south ever so slightly, you could visit Victoria Street/West Bow for dinky shops, a nice gallery that I can't remember the name of, and the Bow Bar for a pint or dram in trad surrounds

Up on George IV Bridge, The Outsider is good for dining with a nice view in a nice place - fresh & tasty food too. Just around the corner, there's the Museum of Scotland and The Royal Museum - good for wet weather discoveries, coffee in the atrium, swanky dining in the Tower (I've never been).

That should do for starters.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

They've bottled it

I made this discovery when tripping around the Highlands a couple of weeks ago. We took in a tour of the Glenmorangie distillery, way up in Tain, and spotted in the shop a whisky called EH10. The name is "a blend of the Edinburgh postal code and a reference to the ten premium whiskies it is made from", and the box features a catalogue-style image of a grinning couple below Edinburgh Castle, all black and white and yuppie-styles. According to its makers,
it encapsulates the sophisticated and stylish character of Edinburgh, from its vibrant café culture to the splendour of its historic traditions. We believe it will have real appeal to younger consumers.
Somehow I don't think I'm quite the target market. Oh, and café culture? Not so I've noticed.

The Scottish Parliament opened officially yesterday, but was rather a subdued affair. The Queen was there, but managed to look cheerless through most of proceedings (unruly, unpredictable, unwilling subjects, us Scots), and was the only one in the whole of the chamber not to take her neighbour's hand and sing Auld Lang Syne - the most uplifting and Scottish-feeling part of the day. Outside, cold and confused about what was actually going on inside (the lack of big screens or other broadcast of proceedings on this historic day to the amassed public kinda went against the whole "parliament of the people" ethos - you had to wander up the Mile and into a pub to find out what was going on), we were entertained by a singer/clarsach-player with dour classics like Loch Lomond and Imagine. Not very cheery stuff. Inside, the other highlight was Edwin Morgan's poem Open The Doors, composed for the occasion and delivered with great gallus by Liz Lochead. You should read it all, but here's an excerpt:
Did you want classic columns and predictable pediments? A
growl of old Gothic grandeur? A blissfully boring box?
Not here, no thanks! No icon, no IKEA, no iceberg, but
curves and caverns, nooks and niches, huddles and
heavens syncopations and surprises. Leave symmetry to
the cemetery.
But bring together slate and stainless steel, black granite
and grey granite, seasoned oak and sycamore, concrete
blond and smooth as silk – the mix is almost alive – it
breathes and beckons – imperial marble it is not!

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Tuesday evening

The home-weigh job was even less accurate than we thought...and my package was over the magic 2kg mark. So much for physics.

I watched The Boy Whose Skin Fell Off on TV last night. And bawled my eyes out. It was an amazing piece of documentary, incredibly moving & very funny. Well worth watching if you get a chance.

Monday, October 04, 2004

Mail fun

Postal physics

Take one bottle of powerade, one plank of wood, assorted pre-weighed (and unopened!) groceries (eg 1.5kg pack of muesli as pictured) and a rudimentary knowledge of physics and - hey presto! - you have a set of scales with a margin of error of about 25%. Brilliant.

My dilemma was this. I wanted to post a parcel by surface mail (yep, Christmas shopping, feeling very organised!), but it has to be less than 2kg, otherwise the price jumps from around £8 to £29. Which is quite a big jump. Keen to avoid my mum's experience of removing string from her parcel at the PO to get it below 2kg, I wanted to make sure before packing it all up. Somehow, despite A's best efforts, I don't think we have conclusively established that the parcel is below the magic weight. But we had fun trying!

Saturday, October 02, 2004

You have to be careful in the land of the free

It's a great title, of the novel I'm reading at the moment, by "Skarrish" writer Jim Kelman. One of the more challenging and yet engaging books I've read in a while, it's a 448 page chapterless, break-less, (brakeless?) stream-of-consciousness tale of a weegie about to take a plane home from America. The narrator, Jeremiah, is pure Glasgow linguistic delight.

The pic I posted last time was of the castle/youth hostel we stayed in last weekend, way up north. With marble statues, elaborate ceilings and resident ghosts (I'm sure I heard the phantom pipers) it ticked all the castle boxes, while funny tourists (not Germans but Aussies by the car-full), creaky bunkbeds and those sheets with inbuilt pillowcases reminded us that we were actually in a hostel.

statue gallery

crazy cornice

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Blogging in Bed

...made possible by the acquisition of my very own laptop (no more sharing) and installation of a wireless network. Cool fun.

Off to stay in Carbisdale Castle this weekend - not as glamorous as it sounds, as it's actually a youth hostel, but still, it's a castle. Since we're in Scotland, we might as well!

Happy birthday to Jon & Berin earlier in the week.

Monday, September 20, 2004

Long weekend

It's Edinburgh's September holiday. It took me less by surprise than last year, but I do still find these local holidays quite mysterious and randomly observed.

I've had a very lazy long weekend. The weather's been pleasingly autumnal - blustery, showery, cold and generally conducive to at-home-laziness-without-guilt. I have a bit of a cold too - even more excuse to stay home, read the weekend papers (The Herald and the Guardian for a change), think about a winter holiday (Morocco or skiing?), catch up with mum's latest dispatch of NZ mags - NZ House & Garden and the brand new, dishy, The Dish (and consequently be reminded about some of the things I miss). I baked a cake from one of aforementioned mags too, but had to find a treacle substitute as our supermarket no longer stocks treacle. I swear the baking shelves get smaller every time I go there. Nigella would be unimpressed.

On matters domestic, I hear that an architect friend of mine designed his kitchen, right down to the tapware, to make it easy for his gal to "fill the kettle for a cuppa". What a gentleman. His house does look nice, though.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Seen and heard

Saw The Motorcycle Diaries at the weekend. I enjoyed the film immensely, but then I think I could enjoy Gael García Bernal in River City. Or anything. I don't know much about El Che, either, but Garcia certainly captured the charisma behind the ubiquitous image.

I think I could watch the Latin American landscape in anything too. It was as much a character as Ernesto and Fuser, and played a more important role in the development of the story and characters than the Norton 500 - "The Mighty One" - of the film's title.

I also watched Spellbound on DVD. A wonderfully engaging look at the seamy underbelly of spelling bees in America. That's not true, actually. It's not at all like the beauty pageants. There is no underbelly (just a liberal sprinkling of pushy parents and extraordinary kids). The wonderfully engaging bit was true though - a nice story, simply told. A reminder of genuine all-American weirdness too.

An aside...around film fest time I was intrigued by the prospect of free DVDs for a month, and signed up for a trial at LOVEFiLM. Fully intending to quit after a month. But the service is so good, I'm hooked. Such a simple but well-executed concept. Makes me wish I'd thought of it.

Heard, yesterday, Marc Prensky, who lists among his job titles "visionary" and "futurist". He led a round table discussion (where we sat in rows, bizarrely...someone missed a point somewhere) on using technology to engage learners, and more interestingly, on applying the principles of game design to engagement. I particularly like his application of gaming to the 7 Habits... It's nice to hear people thinking about things differently.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Holyrood is open

The MSPs have moved in, banged their heads a few times (probably not such a bad thing), and today the whole parliamentary process creaked into life in it's new, gorgeous home. It's been a controversial project, cost a lot of money, and I did once wonder if I would still live in Scotland when it was finished. Well, I do. I like what I've seen so far...architecture that suits its purpose and sits well in its environment, and yet a building that captures the imagination. Now all I need to do is blag a tour.

Last night I watched a doco on TV about another controversial architecture project - the Ground Zero memorial site. It transpires that Daniel Libeskind's building, which won the design competition and is a very personal & symbolic response to the site, doesn't suit the current leaseholder and the "commercial demands of prime real estate". So the building we end up with may very well be an ugly compromise. All very depressing.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Things that have made me smile today

  • A red-headed, knee-socks and T-bars girl (7?) dancing away with her reflection in the bank window, whileher mum used the ATM. She even did the chicken dance.
  • The sunshine, making the North-East coast sparkle on my trip to/from Aberdeen.
  • Being able to run a wee bit further than last time (which was over a week ago - I'm very intermittent!)

Monday, August 30, 2004

edge of the earth part 2

So, Baile Na Cille. A rambling sort of place, with big comfy beds, Harris tweed curtains, a dog (deaf Lord Bertie), a cat, thousands of books, bar billiards, a tennis court, and a certain shabby chic. The Blairs have stayed there - subtly referenced on the Baile Na Cille website - "Escape world tension, politics, work, the kids, royalty, reality." Why not just say "better than Balmoral"? While we were there, we enjoyed the company of Clive Anderson and his family - complete with big black (Newfoundland) and small white dogs. They were good at Balderdash (the family, not the dogs), but not as good as another guest, who cheerfully admitted that this was her 18th visit to BNC - twice a year for 9 years!

The food was good - Stornoway black pudding (and eggs, bacon, sausages, fried bread, tomatoes, toast, fruit, cereal and coffee) and creamy porridge for breakfast. No need for lunch. Dinner at 7. You are told where to sit (around two big tables, for good craic), and the food keeps coming. We thought our fellow guests were joking when they told us after our main course that there were three more to come!

Luckily we managed to fit in some walking around all that digestion and some pretty dramatic weather - rain in the night like machine gun fire, gale force winds, sunshine, rainbows, everything except snow. Our photos might give a flavour. From BNC you could walk along the Uig Sands for at least an hour before turning around - as long as the tide was low enough and you crossed the burn at the bridge. Plenty of good walking elsewhere too - the Castle Grounds for a tree fix (Lewis is notoriously tree-less...the father of one of our fellow-guests was from around Uig, and was 12 before he saw his first tree!), endless sparkling beaches, peaty moors and even some mountains in Harris if you're that way inclined (I'm not).

Lewis is also home to some pretty amazing sights. Top of the list would have to be the Callanish Stones, an impressive 5,000 year-old (or thereabouts) stone circle / avenue /radial arms combination that makes a slightly skew celtic cross. Our photos don't do them justice, but part of the magic of the site is that it is impossible to capture / fix - with your eye or with a camera. There's a mystery and majesty about the place (how did they get there? why? whom?), augmented by the isolation. Despite being Lewis' top tourist attraction (I guess), when we visited there was no-one else there. Complete isolation allows you to contemplate the bigness of it all. Better still, it's free to visit, no tacky tourist trappings, dramatically situated and exposed to the elements.

The Broch at Carloway is also impressive. They were quite good at arranging stones back in times BC. And imagine living there!

You stumble upon archaeological treasures all over the place in Lewis. Even cows make archaeological discoveries (or owners of cows, depending on which story you believe). The enthusiast at the Uig community museum up the road (well worth a poke around) told us that the site where the chess pieces were found has not even been properly excavated/investigated. An opportunity for any archaeological enthusiasts out there.

The black house village at Gearannan was cool too. You can even rent out some of the houses as self-catering accom, although I'm not sure I'd fancy having tourists wandering around all day. And the Iron Age "jelly baby" house, Norse Mill, galleries, much to see, and we didn't even make it to Harris (although I did pick up some Harris Tweed in pretty colours straight from the mill, at (hopefully) bargain prices).

Have I sold you yet? If you get a chance, in this lifetime, go to the edge of the earth.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

The edge of the earth

Just spent a relaxing three days on the Isle of Lewis - my home from 1981-1987. It was my first visit since leaving all those years ago, and I was particularly interested to find out how the memories would hold up, how much had changed.

We flew up there and hired a car (about the same price as taking a car on the ferry, and much quicker). Lochs Motors proved to be a relaxed outfit - no insurance excess, extra drivers at no extra charge, and to drop off the car at the airport on Sunday, we just had to leave the keys under the sun visor (and the car unlocked). Almost like being in a different, more honest, decade.

Our first stop was to Aird, Point, where I lived and went to school all those years ago. On the drive out to Aird, I was pleasantly surprised to recognise houses and remember who lived where. My school seemed smaller and grimmer than I remember, and I later heard from my neighbour that it is due to close soon. The distance between home and school also seemed to be shorter than I remembered...funny how memories of size and distance are invariably inaccurate. We parked up outside my old house (more or less as I remembered it) and visited my next-door neighbour and former Brown Owl (I was a Brownie, once) for lunch. The Atkins diet has even reached Aird (and has in Betty one of its staunchest supporters!), but fortunately she had some bread in the freezer for visitors! All in all a surreal meal experience.

Next stop was Stornoway...I was on a shopping mission, only to be cruelly thwarted by Stornoway Communion (the shops were mostly shut). This is a place where, more than anywhere else in the world, religion (in the form of strict Free Presbyterianism) rules. The sabbath is strictly observed, in some households to the extent that meals are not even cooked on Sundays. No-one was allowed to come out and play on a Sunday, riding your bike was frowned upon, and as a child it was definitely the most boring day of the week.

Some things have changed. You can now fly on a Sunday, buy petrol, and a Sunday newspaper. But at our guesthouse, no cooked breakfast today as there were no workers, and guests were asked to make their own beds if staying on!

While in Stornoway, we checked out the Great Book of Gaelic exhibition at An Lanntair - a touring exhibition that brings together the work of calligraphers, poets and artists from Scotland & Ireland, and that will ultimately be bound in book form. Apart from that, and discovering free parking (nice) and closed shops, the squally rain made more of a look-round an unpleasant prospect. Instead, we hit the road, headed for Uig and our lodging for the next three nights, Baile-Na-Cille.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Enough is enough?

What's happening in NZ these days? What's with all this enough is enough Destiny Church stuff? Quite disturbing, from what I have read (although being so far away and out of the loop, NZ-wise, it probably snuck up on me more than it would have at home). I like Tom Scott's cartoon take on things.

Even though we are permanently connected, always on, NZ news is quite often old news by the time I catch up with it. I'm obviously not a dedicated-enough Herald/Stuff et al fact the only NZ news site I manage to regularly keep up with is Public Address (although that might not be such a bad thing...). Even with email, it's hard to remain connected to people when your telephoning window is only a couple of hours a week if you work and have some sort of social life (and the person on the other end does too). I was chatting to Fern about this a few weeks ago, and agreed that it's the time difference, more than anything else, that makes NZ so far away.

Too far away to import bread from, too. I'm still on my Edinburgh Vogel's quest. They just don't do good bread here. Mellis' at the end of the road does quite a nice 5-grain at £1.69 a loaf which seems a bit steep (plus they're not open before work and the bread is stale by day 2). Marks & Spencer do a good Irish bread, but it's not very handy either. I hear you can get Vogel's at Sainsbury's in London, so if you're heading this way from there, pop a loaf in your bag for me :-)... (that's me drooling!)...

Monday, August 23, 2004

why I'll never be an olympian

It's not that I lack the requisite strength, endurance, speed, and talent to be a great Olympian (although certainly, these are all factors standing in my way). Nope, the main reason I could not be an Olympian is that I'd probably be arrested for punching a commentator not too far into my career. Like maybe the first time they said "that was a poor race. You ran/swam/cycled too fast/slow in the first/last 100/400. The whole country's disappointed," or something of that ilk. The BBC commentators are brutal, especially the trackside athletics lady - so mean, curt, evil headmistress, "could have done better"-ish. I feel sorry for the athletes. Seconds after their Olympic hopes and dreams have been dashed, she makes sure she rubs their noses in it.

Otherwise, I am enjoying the Olympics...all the sports you never get to watch are on primetime TV and sometimes surprisingly fascinating.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Book thing

I went to a book thing last night. There are always book things in Edinburgh, but before I moved here I don't think I've been to a single one. Maybe NZers are not so into book things. And I suppose Edinburgh is currently bidding to be the first World City of Literature.

I realise that my terminology is a bit unspecific - but so are such events. A reading, and author talking about their work, an author signing their work, an author in conversation with someone else about their work, or some combination thereof. So, a book thing. Last night was Louise Welsh talking to Jamie Byng about (amongst other things) her new book, Tambourlaine Must Die, at the Fruitmarket Gallery.

Louise Welsh was quite delightful - short, cute, funky and smart. Her comments and observations were modest and to the point...a definite discipline with language. Her publisher was altogether looser (to match his flowing locks and fidgeting), but still charismatic for it.

I was at this book thing quite randomly. I was reading Tamburlaine Must Die at the time, and got an email at work saying it was on. I was also kind of interested to see the head of Canongate, as I'd recently applied for a job there.

So, I listened to them chat over a bottle of wine, was too shy to ask any questions (as usual...for some reason, despite being quite used to public speaking , I am always afraid my voice will come out like a squeak), and queued up afterwards to get my book signed. I somehow was feeling a bit nervous then too...what will I ask her to inscribe, what will I say? It's quite ridiculous. An unassuming author, who told me she gets so nervous at book signings she sometimes forgets how to spell her own name. A queue of nervous readers. What is it about human interaction with an unknown (and especially a famous unknown) that is so scary? Maybe we're just out of practice.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

more festival stuff

My definite festival highlight so far has been my favourite kiwi parody folk duo, Flight of the Conchords. They were great last year, even though they played to a half-full, half-wit audience (well maybe the last point's a bit harsh, it just went with the other half I guess, and they did seem to struggle to get the show), in a leaky, smelly venue. They went on to get good reviews, sell some more tickets, and get nominated for a Perrier. They have evidently developed a bit of a fan base too - they have a fan-site, a lot of girls in the audience (many of whom had bought their album), and a sold-out opening night at the much more classy Reid Hall.

The show started with a ballad of mistaken identity, with Jemaine playing the guy who doesn't remember meeting the girl (Bret) he has in fact never met (while she thinks they have a child). Hard to convey in prose, great as a musical double-act, funny stuff. Other musical highlights included an instrumental action song with an Egyptian theme, a little bit of ragga, and some tales of seduction (with socks on, on a Wednesday night). There was of course some classic Conchords banter, and a great story about Bret's imaginary children (one named Mildred, to rhyme with children). Throughout it all their timing is classic and their delivery deadpan. Very, very funny.

For some reason Bret reminds me of Paul - the Scotsman reviewer picked up on this vibe too, describing them as looking like "mildly bemused supply teachers".

Last night was more comedy - this time of the less quirky, more mainstream variety, in the form of Danny Bhoy. It was a nice show. A bit slow to start, a bit light on belly laughs, a bit of over-familiar territory, but well-crafted and nicely delivered nonetheless.

Monday, August 09, 2004

It's that time of year again...

It's the silly season in Edinburgh. A taxi driver said to me yesterday that if he could afford to he'd take off to another country for the month of August every year, eschewing increased profits in exchange for escaping the traffic, the gormless tourists, the general hassle of the Festival. And it's only just begun! They do like to whinge, though, the Edinburgh cabbies. And the populus in general - a national (UK wide) pastime.

So what of the Festival so far? It does feel a bit strange, second time around (can't quite believe it's been a year). I've lost a bit of the wide-eyed wonder, but there is always something around the corner to rekindle it. On Saturday night, after watching Macbeth, appropriately enough, it was the haar that did it. The city centre was transformed into an eerie, otherwordly place...the kind of place Burke and Hare would have inhabited. You couldn't really see the old town from the new town, just some light suggestions that there might be something up there on the hill.

Macbeth itself was an uncomfortable experience. Hard, short-backed seats, too close to each other, and sweltering, sweaty atmosphere. There I go, indulging in that national pastime again. The play itself was visually strong. The minimalist set featured only a stage full of swords, suspended by their hilt from the ceiling, and lowered, raised, clattered amongst and lit to suit the dramatic action - to spectacular effect. The gals were all heaving bosoms, the lads sported almost architectural leather jackets, both suitably Shakespearean but with a modern edge. Performances were good, too - apart from Macbeth, whom I found unconvincing - but as a whole the play seemed to lack something. Or maybe it was just the lack of air-conditioning.

Sticking with the sticky heat for a bit takes us to yesterday, perhaps the hottest, sunniest day of the year, and a fine day for the Edinburgh Festivals Cavalcade - a big parade of floats and dancers and pipe bands and transvestites and other exhibitionists (the Ladyboys of Bangkok were my group's favourite - you probably don't get to see many Ladyboys in Dumfries), watched by 185,000 people. I was working, trying to wrangle a 50-strong group of adult learners and their families, make sure that they had sandwiches that they liked (no mean feat), shared the cameras, and collected lots of good that they can build an award-winning float for next year. By which time, hopefully, I will be doing something else!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

16 Years of Alcohol

Went to see this at the Cameo on Friday. It was on Screen One, quite a grand old-style theatre, complete with pillars, ornate plasterwork, italiante statues and velvet curtains, but with a very shallow slope (not good for shorties like me). The screen is of a decent size and the red velvet seats are plush and comfy, but somehow the cinema still seems to smell like old men. I don't know what it is about the Cameo, but all its theatres smell like this. Maybe something to do with the Tollcross location?

The film was a looker - especially for something shot on digi. Director Jobson wears his stylistic influences on his sleeve - not the grim social realists that the subject might suggest, but rather east-Asian cinema (his next film, The Purifiers, is a martial-arts flick), and in particular, Wong Kar-Wai. He calls it his "hymn to the city" (of Edinburgh) and indeed she has never looked so cinematic - from the National Monument on Calton Hill to the closes and wynds of the Old Town and the smoky pub interiors. It's quite poetic, too, with its narrative meditation on hope, and the performances (especially Kevin McKidd as Frankie) are convincing and at times explosive.

I did find some aspects of the story quite annoying though. It at times feels like an excercise in self-justification (especially give that Jobson is quite open about its semi-autobiographical nature). All the dreadful things that Frankie does (and there are a lot!) seem to be attributable to an external force rather than to the character if the director is trying to convince you that all this stuff really wasn't his fault. Perhaps I'm being uncharitable...but any sympathy with Jobson I might have had was destroyed by the post-screening Q&A...never have I heard a film director more in love with the sound of his own voice! He repeated himself, repeatedly, for a good 45 mins after the film.

It's been a hot weekend, but the sun has struggled to burn off the summer haar. Still, it's sunny to enjoy it while it lasts!

Monday, July 26, 2004

Wheelie good

Hoorah.  The sun is shining, the birds are singing (actually, that bit wasn't so good - we had a colony of marauding gulls outside our office all afternoon making nasty gull noises), and I got home to find a package from Japan on our doorstep.

Yes folks, it was The Difficult Second Album.  The Cosmic Wheels rock.  The NZ ones, that is.  Unless Tom has lost all taste and design sensibility, this Cosmic Wheels  (minus the The, I note) is just a group of pretenders straight out of PG13 (my favourite song).

I'm up to track 10, and have grinned a lot.  Clever lyrics and catchy riffs abound.  My album of summer so far.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

impressions of Ireland

3 Dohertys and a Taylor.  A big green Skoda Octavia (a good family car for a family road trip).  Six days around the Emerald Isle.

The driving.
I was one of the designated drivers, but did I get to do any driving?  Nope, because the other was my dad.  Dads never let their kids drive them .  But since A always makes me drive when we hire cars (he's out of practice at the gear-clutch combo), I did appreciate my time in the back seat.  We managed to clock up close to 900 miles over the six days, on all sorts of roads.  There was a fair amount of "are we nearly there yet?", a few nasty traffic jams, a few wrong turns and a few times we were totally lost, but it always worked out in the end.  Like the time mum took us to an interesting looking blue symbol on the map, where she was sure we could get a cup of tea (more on that later).  We turned off the highway, with little clue of where we were headed.  What we found, in the end, was a gem.  A craft co-operative (lots of interesting studio/shops) with a cafe that serves the best apple pie I've ever tasted, staffed by a friendly, chatty but 50% incomprehensible waitress (very thick brogue).  She delighted in sharing the news that that day was St Swithin's Day.  If on St. Swithins Day comes the rain, for forty days it will remain.  It was raining.  And so far, so true.

The weather
I mentioned this in my last post.  It rained a fair bit - but we were in Ireland.  It does that.  How else could the Emerald Isle possibly achieve those 40 shades of green?  The sun shone too, though, and we saw dramatic, big skies.

The people
From a place and a people that is personable, locquacious, chatty and musical (even when talking about scones), we found no shortage of good craic.  People always want to know your story, and are happy to tell you theirs.  This was a delight, used as we are to slightly reserved Edinburgers.

On the other hand, it didn't take long to become totally fed up with the hoardes of Spanish schoolkids everywhere we looked.  They have to be the noisiest teenagers in the world, and it doesn't help that they travel in packs of 50, with one hapless teacher trying to keep things under control.  They have been spotted in Edinburgh too.  I think this might be Spain's revenge for the louts that descend on their country en masse from here every year.

The most famous person spotted was Mary McAleese, the Irish president and an all round nice lady.  We saw her, quite by chance, at the blessing of the boats in Howth (a fishing town close to Dublin).  Everyone in the crowd seemed to love her, and the lack of security and her general accessibility was quite remarkable.

The sights
We packed a lot into our six day trip.  A definite highlight was a visit to the Rock of Cashel - a spectacular limestone outcrop topped by medieval cathedral, church, tower & cemetery.  By itself, the rock and buildings would have been amazing, but they were really brought to life by our guide, Donna, who had a loud, lovely voice and lots of great stories.

The atmospheric Doolough Valley was a surprise delight.  We happenned upon it quite by chance, and were astonished to discover a place so still and quiet and beautiful, steeped (as much of Ireland is) in tragic history.  During the worst famine years, more than 200 starving people walked through the valley to Delphi Lodge to ask for food.  They were refused, and many perished walking back through the valley.  They are commemorated by a cross, and were remembered by Bishop Desmond Tutu, who repeated the walk in 1991. 

Galway was pretty, with great, music-filled pubs but lots of tourists too.  Cork was a mess - lots of work to do before next year, when it will be European City of Culture.  All the streets are dug up (not too dissimilar to Edinburgh, really, where they've had to tarseal the Royal Mile temporarily because the cobbles laid a year ago are all broken) - we even met a cheery chap in the pub responsible "for this feckin mess".  He seemed quite pleased with himself!  Dublin was bustling, with a great atmosphere and loads going on.

I like Ireland, and would visit again in a minute.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

almightily bad

A just made me sit through a movie he said would be really funny.  Instead, t'was cheesily bad.  Bruce Almighty.  Don't rent it.  Don't even borrow it for free. 

Today was my first day back at work after a week and a bit of tripping around Ireland and looking after maw & paw.  For those who are following their travels (I hear Kevin likes to do so with an atlas in hand) they left this morning for East Midlands, Potterhanworth and Coventry.  They like to pack things in.  Actually, if you were following their travels, this blog would not be the place to look as it's been so infrequently updated.

Being a work day (my first in a while) the sun shone all day and it was hot (for the first time in a while).  It rained a bit in Ireland.  But, to be sure, you wouldn't be in Ireland if it wasn't raining.  So the leprechauns said.  Yes, Morg, they really do say "to be sure".

Monday, June 14, 2004

accommodation adventures

A couple of weeks ago, we got back from Budapest, having enjoyed 9 days or so there and in Prague. It's always difficult to write about a trip afterwards, to evoke the joys, the frustrations, the disorientation and just plain weirdness of being in another place. Actually, the weirdness is usually a good place to start.

Top of the list has to be our "private room" in Budapest. We had left things a bit late, being assured by guidebooks (note to self: remember not to believe even half the things I read in guidebooks) that there was plentiful accommodation in the Hungarian capital. We hadn't banked on Pentecost (not mentioned by Lonely Planet, of course), a big holiday in Hungary. And, as the Hungarian Taylors often reminded us when we saw them, Budapest is the only place in Hungary worth visiting. So I guess everyone flocks to the city on holiday weekends.

This is why we ended up staying with a "nice German lady" in the Casanova building (apparently he stayed there once - should be a clue to the building's state of disrepair), on the Buda side of the river. We thought it would be OK, a kind of B and B type thing, heck there was even a private bathroom. The reality was just a bit too odd, however. The "picturesque double courtyard" onto which her apartment looked was currently a building site, complete with concrete mixers and cussing builders. The roof was being repaired and, lucky us, the contraption to lift tiles up to the roof was noisily situated right outside our bedroom window.

I say bedroom, but it was actually German granny's livingroom, complete with a life's worth of nicknacks, way too personal to be comfortable. We slept on her sofabed, and had to walk through a kitchen complete with boiling pots of chicken feet to get to our room. After assuring us the builders wouldn't be working the next day (via her neighbour as we don't speak any German), they started at 8am, right outside the window. Attempts to forcefeed us strange-looking chocolate cake for breakfast didn't help.

We felt bad about not staying the full 4 nights we had arranged (I'm sure she needs the money), but 2 nights was our limit!

The agency we booked through moved us to an apartment on the Pest side of the river, a bit handier for most things. Thankfully the only odd thing about this place was that it was on the half-floor. A wee bit John Malkovich. Midway between the grandiose elegance of the ground and first floors was a much more modestly proportioned half-floor, accessible by a separate, dark and slightly dingy set of stairs. If you have a look at this photo you might see what I mean.

Another strange accom experience was delivered by the Reeves in Prague. "Come stay with us", they said. "We have a sofabed." Yeah, right. I got to sleep on the couch (which did not, in any way, fold down to a bed), while A slept on a bed made of towels (the apartment had a lot of towels), a folded rug, under a tablecloth and more towels (we had 2 x sleepingbag liners, but only one sleepingbag - that will teach us not to travel so light!). He assured us all it was quite comfortable, but his multiple abortive efforts to move in the morning suggested otherwise. Still, it was good to see the twins & their girls...just like old times.

Friday, June 11, 2004

He has really big hands

Jonah Lomu, so he does. I was very excited to get the chance to shake them last week, at Ottakar's (a nice old-style, non-Waterstone's/Borders bookstore in Edinburgh - still a chain but a small one).

The big handed one (actually, he's big all over - I think he might have towered over me while sitting down) was in town to sign his book. I don't know if I would have gone to a signing in NZ, but there's something nice about doing it here. Almost as exciting was seeing my pic in Metro the next day. Metro is a free newspaper you get on buses and trains or generally on the way to work. It's not known for the quality of its journalism, but is worth a read for the generally bizarre letters pages. For example (and I quote the entire letter here):
Can you say hello to my Aunty Duncan?
Caroline, Glasgow

See what I mean?

Got to vote in the European elections yesterday. Have yet to meet anyone who has a clue what they are all about though.

All the holes are now filled, the walls of our bedroom are painted, and it doesn't feel so much like we're living in a worksite. Which is lucky, as it's visitor season...

Monday, May 10, 2004


We are becoming intimately acquainted with our new bricks and mortar. Or, more specifically, with the cracks and gouges contained therein. New homeowners that we are, we of course wanted to make our mark on something. We figured that our bedroom, with its vast expanses of wall, would be a fairly safe bet for a quick makeover. Little did we suspect the horrors that lay beneath the wallpaper, the marks that we would first have to erase.

Since we stripped off the paper last weekend, we have spent every waking, at home hour filling holes in the walls. They are practically white all over, and we are on our third packet of Polyfilla. Ah, the joys of DIY. Had we understood the scale of the job, we might have just got a plasterer in (it sounds easy, but is not without attendant problems in a town where houses are scarce and tradesmen are king).

The delights of sanding and painting await us, but tonight's a night off.

Other adventures of late...

A trip to the Scottish Borders this weekend, to show face at a boring conference and do a bit of exploring on the side. I can highly recommend the coffee shop at Floors Castle, where the very tasty food is prepared by the Duke of Roxburghe's chef.

Work is keeping me busy - we're gearing up for Adult Learners' Week, which means 10 national events, 500+ local events, a mountain of promotional junk to be sent throughout Scotland, lots of media attention and frazzled people, and me stuck in the middle somewhere. Fun!

Another Kate recommendation - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Love that movie. Charlie Kaufman is a genius indeed.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Washing & reading

ahhh...the dulcet tones of my new Bosch washing machine. So quiet. So watertight (the last one was a bit leaky). It's even got a digital countdown and lots of other nifty features. Like words that make sense instead of pictures that don't. Not quite F&P (you can't get their washing machines here, although I have seen a very expensive dishdrawer in John Lewis).

I'm reading and enjoying the Penguin History of New Zealand at the moment (the enjoying bit might be a first for a history book, I think). It's so well written, such an easy, almost conversational style, while still doing justice to the subject - I'd highly recommend it. I was shocked, though, to discover that Michael King had been killed in a car accident - what a tremendous loss for NZ.

In fact, I think I'll get back to it now...altogether too much computer today.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Another week has passed

How did that happen?

It was a good week, actually. For the last three days (that includes Saturday AND Sunday, plus Monday when I should be at work but instead am lounging at home awaiting delivery of my brand new Bosch washing machine...exciting!!!) it has been hot and sunny - with all the windows flung wide, our weather station tells me it's 22.3 degrees. Nice. Nothing like a bit of sunshine to put a smile on a girl's face and bright red jandals on her feet. And it's only April...hopefully this bodes well for another record-breaking Scottish summer (there, I've jinxed it).

Speaking of footwear, I made my first e-bay purchase last week. I've been hunting down a pair of Puma Mostro sneakers since I saw them in France, but you can't get them here. Well you can, but only in red and white (white, white, all sneakers, I mean trainers, here are white and neddy)...maybe black's last year's model? I found them online in the US, but nobody would ship outside of the US. I found a lovely guy near Philadelphia by the name of Joshua (some of you might know him...he quite likes meat) who was going to accept delivery and post them back, but then no-one had them in stock in my size. I'd just about given up, and then ebay throws up a treasure...a pair of these very shoes, my size, brand new, in Newcastle (and for less dosh than I was planning to shell out). They haven't arrived yet, so I shouldn't get too excited.

Online shopping's had its ups and downs of late. Sainsbury's were a treat with their punctual delivery of NZ lamb, all frozen and perfectly stamped, plus a case of Stella (a bit hard to fit that on the scooter) and other delights. Argos, on the other hand, were dreadful. Their convenient delivery window is 8am-6pm (made even less convenient when 4 of 5 items ordered arrive at midday, and you wait the rest of the day for the 5th, assured that it's on its way with a different driver, only to be let down). The missing kettle & toaster were delivered a few days later to my neighbour, despite me cancelling their delivery, and when I took them back to the shop (opting to give another 10 hr wait for a pick-up a miss) they could only give me gift vouchers and not my money back.

Sorry, rant over.

France was fun. We arrived in Marseille, and spent our first four days there & thereabouts. Much time was spent in waterfront cafes, sipping coffee or pastis and watching the world go by. It was hot enough to sit outside, a real treat after a long Scottish winter, and we even managed to come back with slight tans (but no-one got to see mine, as I also came home with some kind of French flu). Other days were spent exploring the Calanques, Aix-en-Provence, and of course churches, shops, markets and art (just like everywhere we visit in Europe).

From Marseille we took the train to Toulouse, and mooched around there for a couple of days (again enjoying cafes, French food, shops, markets & cool old churches). It's very compact and picturesque, and unbelievably friendly (our first encounter with a Toulousian was when we got off the Metro and must have done our slightly lost tourist impression (luggage is a dead giveaway). We were swiftly and accurately pointed in the direction of our hotel. What girl could not love a town called "la ville rose" because of all its pretty pink buildings. Beats the pants off "City of the Future" - NZ's not exactly hi-tech Hamilton (maybe they've dropped that slogan, I couldn't find it on their website), or Scotland's own "City of Discovery", Dundee.

Next stop was Bordeaux, where we were being met at the train station by Andrew's cousin, Jay. We managed to wait for him in Departures for quite a while (for some reason, he thought we woudl arrive in Arrivals), and worried that we had missed him and wouldn't find him, as A last saw him 15 or more years ago. We needn't have worried. I recognised him the minute he stepped into the Departures hall, as yet another Taylor clone (strong gene pool, that lot). See for yourself.

We stayed with Jay and his wife Celine in their gorgeous old apartment in the old part of Bordeaux, with views over the rooftops and cobbled streets and pretty Places all around. It was a nice end to the trip - hanging out with Jay, Celine & their friends (including Simon from Christchurch!), eating late, sleeping late, drinking Bordeaux and climbing Europe's highest sand-dune.

Still no washing machine...hope this won't be a repeat of my Argos experience!

Sunday, April 18, 2004


It feels like that last month or so has been lived in fast-forward. Or maybe a strange combination of speed and busy-ness and moments of contemplation (after all, there have been two holidays).

I am a person who likes things to happen quickly anyway (and yet am not very keen on speed in and of itself - sports and activities that require one to go really fast are not my thing). There's an ad on TV at the moment (for AOL broadband I think), which has a guy in a variety of scenarios, experiencing frustration at how slowly things are happening (eg supermarket checkout) and intervening to remedy the situation (eg scanning his own shopping). Scarily, I'm reminded a little of myself. Andrew thinks I hold the land speed record for travel within an airport terminal (and probably for Princes St on a Saturday too).

So, what's been going on?

Well, on Friday we officially became property owners. Our little flat now really is ours. Exchange went without a hitch, except for the minor scare with the mortgage a week out when the Halifax inquired about A's accent and discovered that we had not been living in the UK for very long. Hurried lobbying of his HR dept and some signatures in the right place managed to avert that one. It's impossible to get any other credit here (except, of course, credit cards, which are given away like sweets) - we were excited about not having to pay anything towards our sofas for a whole year, but of course we failed the credit check, as they can't, for some reason, check NZ. In fact, we can't even open a bank account to deposit money into, never mind anything else, at the bank that A works for! Believe what everyone tells you, and set up your bank accounts BEFORE travelling the UK!

Our flat is looking a bit spartan (or perhaps minimalist) . We have the basics covered - somewhere to sleep (a new bed, heaven after the protruding springs of the last one), somewhere to sit, a bright red rug and kitchen basics - but our chest of drawers is still an assortment of shoeboxes, and our coffeetable is also of the cardboard variety. I had to go out and buy a grater today as we had a craving for carrot cake. It is nice, though, to be surrounded by things that are ours - the place really feels different. And that's before DIY adventures...

We've been to France, too - there are photos. More on that anon.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

eh10 can remain eh10

I'd almost forgotten about that...

oor hoose

Yep, we can finally say that. The flat we are currently living in is pretty much ours - it will be once the missives are complete and we exchange on 16th April. Yay! Can't quite believe it finally happened. There was much anguish, gnashing of teeth, a wee bit of playing hardball, and it has taken a wee while to come to terms with the fact that we are not going to be moving, after spending so long thinking about moving and trying to make it happen.

We can reclaim Thursday nights and Sundays, and Monday nights when the espc website is updated. It's quite a relief!

The weather didn't really get much better in Amsterdam, but we had a good time anyway. Our hotel was fab, even though the climb up the stairs to our "Mae West" room on the third floor required mountaineering skills (the stairs were very steep). Only 5 rooms, I think, so quite homely, and breakfast definitely fuel for the day.

Other highlights were the Van Gogh museum, and the Anne Frank House - incredibly simple and quite sombre, but an affecting experience. It reminds you of the impact that one young person's writing and experience can have, and even managed to keep the ubiquitous American tourists quiet for an hour or so. Shopping continued to be a worthwhile pursuit, as was cafe-hopping...mmm...applepie...yum...

Off to France on Saturday. It seems like our feet have barely touched the ground this week!

Saturday, March 20, 2004


Hello from the Netherlands - a really windy and sometimes rainy, but rather charming, Amsterdam. Nice to be here and away for a weekend. We're in the depths of touristville just now (the first time today though) and consequently are suffering an attack from loud Americans (do they come any other way when abroad?) in the internet cafe.

Our time here didn't start so well - I got our Hotel Keizerhof muddled with Hotel Keizergracht. One was much closer to the railway station that the other...we had quite a long walk! And I felt quite silly. Ah well.

Since then, we've had lots of amazing coffee (not at "coffee shops", though), are well-fed, and have visited lots of uber stylish design stores (and seriously considered Easyjet's reaction to taking chairs as hand luggage). The highlight of the day so far has definitely been the discovery of Kitsch Kitchen - the ultimate antidote to beige.

Sunday, March 14, 2004


Something I didn't consider in our quest for a new abode...postcode. If we move out of EH10 I'll need to rename my blog. I can't believe A hasn't factored this into his "consider every possibility and rank it" spreadsheet yet. That's probably why things haven't worked out for us so far...

More unsuccessful offers found us fleeing Edinburgh for the day yesterday, to an altogether more friendly place...Glasgow. The great thing is it's only 45 mins away on the train, so no pre-planning required.

It rains lots more in Glasgow, and, true to form, it was pissing down when we arrived - meaning that our first purchase of the day was a brolly! By afternoon, though, the sun was shining through a very moody sky, and the views from the top of the Lighthouse were spectacular. Not a real lighthouse, you ken, but a centre for architecture & design, housed in a Charles Rennie MacKintosh designed building, complete with an uber stylish design store, the best views in town, and some great exhibitions. We checked out the latest Hungarian architecture in preparation for our trip there in June (geeks that we are) and were astounded by some of the daft suggestions in Re:Motion - an exhibition about sustainability (eg. flood the site of Waverley station - Edinburgh's main train station - and use seaplanes as transport to/from Edinburgh instead).

Retail therapy was achieved without even buying anything - just wandering around the ultra-trendy Open and checking out the latest t-shirts, sneakers and other treasures is enough to lift the spirits. Glasgow's apparently the best place to shop in the UK, after London. It beats the pants off Edinburgh anyway.

As always, the weekend has flown by. Next weekend we have three days in Amsterdam, though, and the week after that we'll be in France. Yay.

Friday, March 05, 2004

Sabotage update

Last night the was the first viewing of our flat. Our landlord - Grimm by name and nature - was brusque and businesslike as always, seemingly forgetting that this is actually our home as well as a sales proposition. He came armed with accessories - a horrible standard lamp which nonetheless cast a very nice light, and pictures which he hung above our bed - no questions, no apologies, just down to business and please put away that unsightly ironing board. At least he said please.

He hadn't reckoned with all our deviousness though. We have two lamps in the living room which cast a very nice light, but there is no centre light. The only other lighting option is a seventies-style fluoro concealed behind a pelmet - we never have it on as it is hideous (and shows up all the flaws in the paintwork). I woke up one night last week with the cunning thought that if the lamps were not working, the fluoro would have to be on. A. embraced this wholeheartedly, and set about breaking the filament in one of the bulbs. Throughout the whole disturbing and bizarre (second) helicopter episode of ER (I thought it was quite sad that no-one found Romano - his pic on the end credits the only reference to his fate) he shook and rattled this lightbulb - to no avail. It remained intact, but not when subjected to the same treatment after spending a night in the freezer. See, physics study comes in handy for something! We thought we'd been scuppered when we got home after the viewing, as Grimm had swapped the bulb with that of another lamp in our bedroom. But someone must be looking out for us, because it wasn't working either.

Rereading the above paragraph, we sound quite mad! We probably are!

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

No news is never good news

Another week and a bit, another ten houses viewed, another two offers, and ever more astronomical prices. Waiting to hear whether your offer's been accepted, every minute past noon means the probability has shrunk. Yesterday, it was 4:30 before we found out...not a fun afternoon!

In a twist to the tale, the flat we are currently renting is also for sale. We thought we might be able to sneakily buy it before it went to market, but our landlord's solicitor stymied that plan. So now we're working on sabotage - stinky food, dirty washing, Andrew's even dismantled the toilet cistern. Actually, he did that (at 2am this morning) because something seemed to be wrong with the overflow mechanism (I just thought it was raining outside), but even though it's now fixed it looks like something's badly wrong so we're thinking about leaving it off!

Snow was in the air. It's been gloriously sunny for about 10 days straight. Mightily chilly/frosty/frozen canal kind of weather, probably the coldest of the winter so far, but beautiful. Things are changing, however, and rain is on the cards, according to A's brand new all-singing, all-dancing weather station. It tells us the temperature and humidity in different rooms, as well as barometric readings, moon phases, the time (synchronised by radio - so it just found the correct time moments after him turning it on), wakes us up in the morning, and probably other things I've forgotten about. He's in gadget heaven, and I'm feeling quite chuffed to have chosen such a popular pressie.

Great Oscar results! It's a shame to have missed watching it at the beloved Embassy, and to be so far removed from the action & celebration. I didn't manage to watch it at all - no amount of national pride could drag me out of bed at 2am (with a cold) to watch it, and I don't think the news coverage here was particularly comprehensive (perhaps even a bit cynical).

Mmmm...I smell some risotto action in the kitchen...

Sunday, February 22, 2004

House quest

End of week seven, the stats look like this:

No. of flats viewed (some 2 or even three times) - 40+
No. of offers submitted - 3
No. of other people looking for flats with similar criteria - at least 500

Today we encountered the first queue out the door - of course it was the place we have liked the most so far, and because of the extra competition, are unlikely to be able to afford (bidding war, anyone?). There seem to be a lot of mums & dads shopping with their kids (and contributing heftily to the deposit, too). We had looked at in on Thursday already, and tried to sneak in an early offer first thing Friday, but there were already two other notes of interest. The sellers like us, greeted us like old friends today, but sadly, that's not enough to close a deal in this mad market.

Saw and greatly enjoyed The Barbarian Invasions this weekend. The dialogue is excellent, electric, and the film moving without being even slightly sentimental.

It feels like snow is in the air again...

Sunday, February 15, 2004

News break at the BAFTAs
...which should really by BAFAs since there's no telly in the awards.

I have no idea why Girl With A Pearl Earring has been nominated for so many awards (just about every one!) - it's really just a nice looking film where not much happens. LOTR3's tally is two so far - cinematography and the Orange (aka people's choice) award - up against such strong competition as Matrix Reloaded and Bruce Almighty! Orange make the most fantastic cinema ads - anyone in the UK will be familiar with them, but for those further afield, their theme is "don't let a mobile phone ruin your movie" (ie switch your phone off). They're a series of satirical looks at pitching films and the Hollywood studio system / corporate sponsorship - so knowing and richly textured, you can watch them again and again and appreciate them each time (which is lucky, given the frequency with which I visit the cinema).

Speaking of cinema, saw School of Rock last night. It rocked! Jack Black rocks! Highly recommended as a piece of cheesy, but not schmaltzy, fun.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

poor neglected blog...I've been rather inattentive of late, preoccupied by other enterprises. Extremely frustrating enterprises they have been too. Aaah, the joys of househunting in the solicitor-driven lottery of a Scottish purchase system. I wasn't going to blog until we actually found a place, but that could spell the end of my blog for good. For those not in the know, here's how things work:

1. Join the logjam scanning the ESPC website every Tuesday lunchtime/evening (when most new places are listed).

2. Follow a tight schedule on Thursday night (inevitably in the rain or snow), looking at masses of grotty places that you can barely afford because you foolishly want to live in the city rather than the suburbs or, worse, the country. Stinky stairs, bathrooms without baths (a bath is a rare commodity), kitchens without sinks, bizarre, unworkable layouts (and ye cannae just knock out walls - everything is masonry here). Either that or the carbon copy "new kitchen for sale", all "blonde" wood and granite tops, installed by folk who have been watching Property Ladder, House Doctor and the like, and increased the value of their homes by the book.

3. Repeat on Sunday between 2 & 4pm to see if "south-facing" really faces south (can be hard to gauge when raining/snowing).

4. As soon as you see a place you like and might be able to afford, "note interest" via solicitor. Get them to scan their secret squirrel database and find out what other properties in the street sold for. Try to sneak in an early offer (this never works).

5. Try to figure out how much to offer. Most properties are advertised as "offers over" £ xyz. The guideline we were given when we first started looking was that properties generally sell between 15-30% over this price. In reality, it's more like 50% or more just now. In calculating a figure, it seems to be 90% gut instinct - how much to pay to beat the competition (today we were up against 21 other offers on one place, and 9 on the other), without paying way over the value of the property (cos then you'll have trouble bridging the gap between what you can borrow and what you have to pay as a deposit - aaagh!!!). Also a weird thing is that you seem to pay a premium just now for places that need some DIY.

6. Submit your offer by the closing date set, and wait for the results of the blind auction, all the while redecorating in your head and imagining yourself living in the place you won't be able to buy...

7. Miss out by a tiny margin and curse not offering that bit extra to stave off the competition.

8. see 1

It's a vicious cycle, that today leaves me grieving for two equally lovable though quite different flats that we almost bought.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004


It finally arrived, not quite with abundance, but more than enough to coat everything white. I'm very glad of my possum socks and merino tops today.

A. is watching a kind of Candid Camera show called Just For Laughs, and is taking it's name way too seriously (it's not that funny), shrieking maniacally from the couch like a man possessed. Well, I suppose he is really...possessed by the spirit of bad TV.

Monday, January 26, 2004

No snow

yet...but our office manager emailed everyone today suggesting we ring in tomorrow morning before turning up for our staff meeting, in case some folk can't make it. Our rural-dwellers might be snowed in, it seems!

Sunday, January 25, 2004


The sun's streaming in our (ever so slightly grubby) windows, heating things up nicely and giving little away about the severe weather warning - an "Arctic blast" is due later today. What fun. It will be a real shock to the system after unseasonably mild temperatures.

The last day things were really cold was the day A. hit some black ice on the scooter and promptly hit the black ice himself - more than a week ago, and the bruise is still a splendid technicolour thing.

We've seen lots of films lately - making the most of our Unlimited cards (£9.99 per month, all the movies you can eat). Girl With a Pearl Earring last night - gorgeous cinematography and Scarlett Johansson, but not too much else going for it. A very thin plot. Much better was the other Johansson pic, Lost In Translation. Not to everyone's taste, but I really enjoyed it - the ultimate evocation of being bored in a hotel room in a strange place. The soundtrack is great, very moody (esp Air's Alone in Kyoto). Now I want to go to Tokyo.

We had to see The Last Samurai, as I have a tenuous professional connection to it (i.e. not a big enough connection to make it onto the credits list!). The film was shot in Taranaki (to replicate Japan) and when the production team was first shopping for locations, Film NZ put together a package recommending that very province. See, tenuous! It was interesting to see, and the action scenes were fantastically choreographed, almost making up for the cringeworthy dialogue. The locations just looked like NZ to me, though (or do they have pungas in Japan?).

We've also been to see Cold Mountain, an enjoyable (apart from the gruesome war scenes) and transporting epic, American Splendour, a film that, while not always totally engaging at the time, is one that I have thought a lot about since - and what incredible casting! And Touching the Void, one of those films that we ended up seeing because what we wanted to see was sold out, and were delighted to have seen. Well worth a look. And that's just this month...

Apologies if my movie-viewing diary is of no interest (although I doubt that you would have made it this far if that was the case!) - I guess it's just symptomatic of this time of year. The nights are long (but gradually getting shorter) and the telly's crap (but getting better - new series of ER & Sex & The City have just started).

Other viewing has been of the theatrical kind. Over a couple of weeks we watched the Slab Boys Trilogy at the Traverse - 3 plays by artist and playwright John Byrne, set in Paisley in the 50's and 60's. I had decided to go and see them as they are held to be "one of Scotland's defining literary works of the twentieth century", and wasn't disappointed.

And of course flat viewing - every Thursday 7-9pm, Sunday 2-4pm...more on that anon...

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Happy New Year

I was about to start this post waaaaay back on the 1st January, but who should turn up on our doorstep than the Reeve-Reeves pair, all the way from Bexley (I just tried to find a link that would give a flavour of the place, but all I could find were hotels (why would you stay in Bexley unless you had free accommodation like Olly?), online dating, UK swingers in Bexley and Al Anon).

We had a super time - Olly brought the car so we were able to drive on fast roads and go places (not possible on the scooter). We went over the Forth to a wee coastal village called Aberdour for a pub lunch by a roaring fire and walk along the coast one day, and up to the Glenturret Distillery, home of the Famous Grouse Experience for some whisky action another. We managed to encounter some snow, albeit snow that had been on the ground a couple of days and more closely resembled ice, which pleased Antoinette no end. At least until we decided to take a walk in said snow, along a woodland trail (or icy death-trap). We soldiered on for a while, but the sight of Olly careering away towards the creek, limbs everywhere and almost uprooting a tree, was enough entertainment for one trip.

New Year itself was a wee bit of a let-down, as Hogmanay was cancelled. It didn't seem that windy and dangerous - and as not many people left the street party anyway, it would have been nice of the party organisers to at least do the countdown, and pipe a bit of music through the PA. I'm glad we hadn't paid for tickets. Still, the atmosphere was quite lively, a fair few kilted bums bared, but not too many slobbery snogs.